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Khashoggi death: Trump’s approach to the case alienates him from GOP

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Lindsey Graham
President
Donald Trump’s approach to Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance has
put him at odds with some of his top allies in the
Senate.

Jonathan
Ernst/Reuters


Saudi Arabia on Friday
acknowledged Khashoggi is dead
.

In a statement, the Saudi government claimed it was “a fistfight
that led to his death.” The fatal fight allegedly occurred after
an argument broke out between Khashoggi and the men who met him
inside the consulate.

Saudi state media said 18 men have been arrested in connection
with this announcement.

President Donald Trump’s
overall approach to Khashoggi’s disappearance
 is
seemingly alienating him from some of his top Republican allies
in the Senate. 

Moving forward, Trump will likely find it far more difficult to
push his agenda through Congress when it comes to Saudi Arabia,
experts say. 

Key Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Bob
Corker of Tennessee, have all condemned Saudi Arabia over the
case and its broader record on human-rights issues. They’ve been
part of bipartisan calls to impose economic sanctions and cease
arms sales to Saudi Arabia. 

Meanwhile, critics feel
Trump has been far too “soft” on the Saudis
under the current
circumstances. 

Ian Bremmer, the president and founder of Eurasia Group,

told Business Insider
the Khashoggi case is “embarrassing to
Trump and is causing a rift between the President and the foreign
policy establishment in the GOP.”


Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal
Khashoggi is featured on a poster during a protest organized by
members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance
to Saudi Arabia’s consulate on October 8, 2018 in Istanbul,
Turkey.

Chris McGrath/Getty
Images


Trump’s handling of the Khashoggi case has been widely
criticized

Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi Consulate in
Istanbul on October 2.

Turkish officials
alleged that Khashoggi was brutally killed
in the consulate
under orders from the highest level of the Saudi
government. 

Khashoggi, who was often critical of the Saudi leadership in his
reporting, had been writing for The Washington Post and was a US
resident with a green card. 

Early in the case, the Saudis denied any culpability in
Khashoggi’s disappearance, and at one point said that the
journalist departed the consulate the same day he arrived,
without providing proof of that claim. 

Trump has defended the Saudis, suggesting “rogue killers” were
responsible and describing criticism of the kingdom as another
case of “guilty until proven innocent.” He’s also touted
America’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia,
boasting about billions of dollars of US arms
sales to the
kingdom when questioned by reporters about the case.


Donald Trump
President
Donald Trump has defended Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin
Salman amid allegations his government had Washington Post
reporter Jamal Khashoggi killed.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The president seems strongly opposed to ceasing arms sales to the
Saudis, claiming it would harm the US economy and be a
“tough pill to swallow.”

The president on Thursday did say it
“certainly looks” like Khashoggi is dead
, but stopped short
of blaming the Saudi government. He added that there would be
“severe consequences” if it turns out the Saudis had anything to
do with Khashoggi’s disappearance, but didn’t get into what those
might be. 

Top Senate Republicans had been ripping into Saudi Arabia over
Khashoggi’s disappearance

Congressional Republicans have been far more direct than Trump as
Khashoggi’s disappearance spiraled into a global crisis

Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, recently led a bipartisan group of senators in

invoking the Magnitsky Act over the Khashoggi case
, which
paved the way for sanctions to be leveled against the
Saudis. 

Last week, Corker said he believed the Saudis had killed
Khashoggi.

More recently,
Corker on Thursday decried the Trump administration for its
“clampdown”
on intelligence regarding the Khashoggi
case. 

The Tennessee Republican claimed a White
House official prevented him from viewing intelligence related to
the journalist’s disappearance.

“I don’t think the administration can allow this to
squirrel around too much longer without taking a definitive
position,”
Corker told Politico
.

Corker and Trump have
butted heads over foreign policy in the past
, so his
criticism of the White House is not particularly
surprising.

But the president’s general approach to the Khashoggi case
also puts him at odds with three of his key allies: Graham,
Rubio, and Paul.

Here’s what these three Trump allies have said about the
Khashoggi case:

  • As Trump touted denials from Crown Prince Mohammed bin
    Salman this week, Graham
    described the Saudi leader as “toxic”
    and said he’s “gotta
    go.”
  • The South Carolina senator said the crown prince had
    Khashoggi “murdered,” adding that

     he plans to
    “sanction the hell out of” the Saudis. 
  • Rubio said the US will
    lose its “credibility on human rights”
    if it doesn’t punish
    the Saudis, and said the US government shouldn’t be so
    concerned with money from arms sales. 
  • Rubio accused Saudi Arabia of going “gangster
    on a writer”
    and being “disrespectful” to Republicans
    who’ve championed their interests, including
    Trump. 
  • Paul, who’s often been at odds with the GOP establishment
    on foreign policy, has
    long decried the US-Saudi partnership
    . He’s ramped up this
    criticism since Khashoggi went missing. 
  • “It’s time to rethink America’s relationship with the
    Saudi Kingdom,”
    Paul wrote in an op-ed
    for Fox News this week. “W
    e
    can start by cutting the Saudis off. We should not send one
    more dime, one more soldier, one more adviser, or one more arms
    deal to the kingdom.”

Congress is not going to let Trump ‘sweep this under the
rug’

Brian McKeon, a former National Security Council chief of
staff under former President Barack Obama, said it’s “not clear”
the Trump administration “understands” how the president’s
handling of the Khashoggi case could negatively impact his
relationships on the Hill. 

“It looks to me like the Trump administration is trying to
manage the problem rather than engage in a search for the truth,”
McKeon, who is now a senior director at the Penn Biden Center for
Diplomacy & Global Engagement, told Business Insider.


Mike Pompeo meets with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
U.S.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with the Saudi Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman during his visits in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
October 16, 2018.

Reuters

“The President has road-tested the ‘rogue actors’ theory on
behalf of Riyadh,” McKeon added. “I don’t think the Congress is
going to accept a result that appears to sweep this under the
rug.”

McKeon said the situation could have a “significant impact”
on the US-Saudi relationship, particularly in the
short-term. 

“There’ll likely be a reaction” in
Congress if Trump chooses not to act against the kingdom, McKeon
said.

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